A few days ago, the White House announced that President Donald Trump accepted an invitation, extended to him by South Korea, to meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who appears ready to negotiate the denuclearization of his country. The American and world media went berserk and began to praise the erratic President. In spite of the spectacular nature of the news, the euphoria didn’t last more than half a day. It should’ve lasted an even shorter time if the world had asked itself the inevitable, critical question much sooner: why on earth would Kim Jong Un ever give up his oft-paraded and trumpeted military toys? He wouldn’t.
I always thought that Donald Trump was the kind of man who could, by his very unpredictable character, surprise the world for the better. His ego, unreliability, and inconsistency could be, someday, useful, maybe even good. When I started to examine how his mind works, I realized that he would be capable even of pardoning Edward Snowden, the former NSA staffer turned whistleblower, who the political establishment, including former president Obama, considers a traitor. Back in the time of the Deng Xiaoping, this kind of pragmatism was the order of the day, with Deng saying, “No matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice.”
Catching mice was a metonymy for the economic development that allowed underdeveloped China to catch up with the Western world.
But what is the catch for Trump, who suddenly and happily conceded to the idea of meeting the Rocket Man? On Thursday, when the South Korean delegation extended him Kim Jong Un’s verbal invitation to meet and negotiate, Trump got so excited that his staff had to stop him from announcing it, though he couldn’t help hinting at it just prior to the formal announcement. It was the chief of South Korea’s spies, Chung Eui-Yong, who in the end communicated the bombshell news during a brief meeting with the White House press corps.
Was their carefully chosen announcement to the American media a coded message requested by Kim Jong Un? The North Korean dictator, after studying his American opponent for a long time, and calling him a “mentally deranged dotard,” had successfully waged his charm campaign, from his warm speech toward Seoul and his sister’s representation at the Olympics to scheduling a meeting with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president. After defrosting the relationship with South, Pyongyang is now offering an olive branch to Washington by proposing the high-level meeting.We do not have many details about the Kim Jong Un message to Trump, but what we can be absolutely sure of is that it was not the White House, nor the State Department, and even less so Donald Trump, who planned this historic meeting. It was the shrewd young Kim, who has seemingly read and mastered Trump’s narcissism and his domestic troubles.
The offer to Trump arrived at just the moment when the Russian-meddling probe and a personal sex scandal involving a porn star was transforming the president into an enraged, if toothless, lion, walking back and forth in his golden cage. When the invitation arrived, Trump snatched at it, and without thinking. It would give him leeway to fend off his persecutors, the special counsel, Stormy Daniels, and an increasingly disappointed American public. Trump was so happy about the offer, indeed, that he popped his head into the press room and told the press corps to get ready for a great story to be announced soon by the South Koreans.
The game lasted for about half a day. It made media and news organizations start to doubt their disciplined criticism of the President, question their exaggerated sarcasm, and hint that this president may have some value, if not quality, in the end. Not perhaps the same kind of capacity as Nixon, who opened China, but epochal in his own way.
Except that this time, the idea of the opening came from Pyongyang, not the White House, where it couldn’t have originated even if it had wanted to because the U.S. has still not appointed an ambassador to Seoul, while Trump’s special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, resigned ten days ago. As soon as these details surfaced, the nation started to worry about whether this president is capable of it at all. To meet Kim and be able to say a few coherent sentences during the meeting, which could not be guaranteed, is a far cry from securing a deal for nuclear disarmament from a potential aggressor. In the end, everyone sort of agreed that even the photo-op between Kim and Trump is preferable to a bombing. The media then turned back to the porn star scandal.
While images of the political confusion, hysteria and improvisation mixed with images of the president’s sex scandals (oh my, how all this reminds us of the times of Berlusconi), in Seoul, a gang of reliable experts recorded a podcast, in an attempt to piece together the fast-developing events. According to NKNews.org, Kim Jong Un decided on the change of strategy because he was afraid that the U.S. might strike for real. As does Trump, so does Kim need more time to fix his domestic problems and get some relief for his country’s stricken economic condition, accelerated brutally by sanctions related to nuclear proliferation.
It is surprising that NK News believes that Trump was ready to sacrifice Seoul in order to be able to punish Pyongyang, able to start a war with disastrous consequences for Seoul and the whole area. However, as Andrei Lankov sees it, the announced break of hostilities and the planned meeting drew down the crisis. The cessation of hostility will last as long as the complicated talks on denuclearization of North Korea. Though it is not clear what the denuclearization may involve, says Lankov, it definitely does not mean that Pyongyang is ready to put down nuclear arms. Pyongyang is pleased with the progress of its ICBM, which can now reach America’s east coast. There were no conditions set for the meeting, but it’s clear Kim is now ready to reshuffle the cards and start talking about easing some of the sanctions starving his population. So, while in Washington we are watching a cabaret, Pyongyang is putting on a different kind of play. But play it is.
All of this while the Chinese waste no time. As I write, the news arrived about Beijing’s further steps towards her global objective. During this year’s session of the National People’s Congress, China has decided to restructure its fragmented foreign policy offices “with the purpose to streamline the structure of the agencies and reduce overlaps,” reported the South China Morning Post.
The changes imply the elimination of the party ideology and its organs from the field of foreign policy, therefore reshuffling the role of foreign policy agencies, and nominating competent people to key positions. Beijing is creating the structure that the Trump administration has managed to dismantle in one year. So yes, my prediction is that unprepared, troubled and still in love with himself, Trump is walking into Kim’s trap. Literally, because Trump will do anything to set his foot in Pyongyang, if only for the sake of his ego and the ratings that go with it. It is just another reality show, and it plays on as America is flushed faster and further down the drain.